In his video, “The Crisis of Marriage and Family in Modern Society,” the theologian Scott Hahn mines the Book of Genesis to learn what happens to societies that embrace behaviors that tear apart the covenant of marriage.
Like contemporary cable TV, Genesis is rife with examples of sexual sins, such as fornication, adultery, and sodomy. But unlike HBO, Genesis also details the real consequences of these acts on families and on societies. It is a pity that some of the legislators in my state are ignoring these timeless lessons.
Massachusetts, America's “Cradle of Liberty,” is now considered “ground zero” by special interest groups that want to give same-sex couples the myriad of legal and financial benefits traditionally reserved for marriage-the building block of society.
Aggressive and organized, the advocates of “equal rights” initiatives in Massachusetts are led by gay activists, but also include the American Civil Liberties Union, the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, the National Organization for Women, and even the AFL-CIO. (Do all those iron workers, teachers and truck drivers know what their labor unions are promoting?)
Their objective is to force same-sex marriage on the state through the courts-thereby setting a legal precedent for the other 49 states.
Church on Defense
Meanwhile, the local Church is attempting to defend the marriage bond. The Massachusetts Catholic Conference supports a proposed “Protection of Marriage Amendment” to the state Constitution, affirming that marriage is a union between one man and one woman, and would prevent “civil union” or “domestic partnership” benefits (examples of the “small steps” strategy for the ultimate recognition of same-sex marriage).
The journey of the proposed amendment has been a rocky one with hairpin turns.
According to The Massachusetts News, homosexual activists used harassment, intimidation and vandalism to interfere with voters signing petitions for the amendment. As a result, Massachusetts Citizens for Marriage, the sponsor of the amendment, was forced to hire paid signature-gatherers-whom local gay rights activists trailed, as they'd been trained to do at an AFL-CIO union hall, by ACLU organizers flown in from California. Despite this harassment and a smear campaign in the press, Massachusetts Citizens for Marriage collected 76,607 valid signatures, as certified by the Secretary of State.
The amendment has broad support-polls indicate more than 60% of citizens support “defense of marriage” legislation. But so far it has been blocked at a critical stage, in the heavily Democratic legislature. According to Massachusetts law, the amendment needs to be approved twice by the legislature before it can make it to the voters in 2004.
The leading enemy of the amendment is Senate President Thomas Birmingham, a labor lawyer by profession-and an avowed Catholic. Birmingham toes the AFL-CIO line on the bill, opposing any “defense of marriage” legislation. In a July article in The Boston Globe, he said the Amendment was “wrong-hearted and wrong-headed.”
C.J. Doyle of the Catholic Action League commented in the Globe about Birmingham's procedural maneuver to kill the ballot question. “Everything that is wrong with Massachusetts state government was apparent today for all the world to see,” Doyle said. “A lame-duck Senate president, Thomas Birmingham, abused his power to subvert the Constitution and frustrate the democratic process because his failing gubernatorial campaign could not withstand pressure from the homosexual lobby.” (Birmingham lost his bid to run for governor as a candidate of the Democratic Party to State Treasurer Shannon O'Brien in the September primary.)
Legislators were put under heavy pressure, and accused of attempting to deny health care to single people if they supported the amendment.
But enough lawmakers would have stuck with the amendment to shepherd it through two legislative sessions if they were not adjourned. Gerry D'Avolio, executive director of the Massachusetts Catholic Conference, praised these lawmakers: “Those legislators who refused to be swayed by the extreme misrepresentations by the Amendment's opponents deserve our most heart-felt gratitude. They stood tall despite a withering stream of attacks accusing supporters of the Amendment of harboring bigotry and hate.”
A lawsuit has been filed against Birmingham and the Secretary of the Commonwealth by Sarah McVay Pawlick, president of Massachusetts Citizens for Marriage. In September, supporters of the Amendment organized sit-ins at the State House, to draw Acting Governor Jane Swift's attention. The fate of the Amendment is still uncertain.
In May, the Superior Court affirmed state marriage laws in answer to a lawsuit filed last year by the Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders on behalf of seven same-sex couples. GLAD has filed an appeal to the decision. It is clear from the battles that are being waged on Christian teaching on life, marriage and the family, that Catholics have a renewed responsibility to be informed, active, and responsible participants in the political process.
As Maria Parker of the Massachusetts Catholic Conference has said, “If we don't act now, the courts will make the decision for us, like they did in Vermont.”
Vermont law now treats persons in same-sex “civil unions” as spouses with all the rights of spouses except for the federal benefits associated with civil marriage. Grassroots efforts are crucial, Parker says. “Without Catholics and other concerned citizens in their districts coming forth to express their support, legislators can simply walk away from the issue.”
When individuals and nations do not renounce their sins and those of their forefathers, as the Book of Genesis records, then their descendants embrace those sins, even institutionalizing them.
And that is what we have seen in America, over the past 50 years.
The gradual dismantling of marriage and family life - beginning with their legal status - are the fallout of the sexual revolution, which began with the erosion of religious faith, and the legalization of all birth control in the early 1960s. It proceeded with the institutionalization of abortion with Roe v. Wade (1973), the creation of no-fault divorce-which made marriage a contract that is legally unenforceable-and now culminates in proposals for same-sex marriage. All this would have seemed unthinkable to most Americans in 1960.
The U.S. Catholic Bishops 2001 Statement on Same-Sex Marriage affirms that “marriage is a faithful, exclusive, and lifelong union between one man and one woman, joined as husband and wife in an intimate partnership of life and love. This union was established by God with its own proper law. By reason of its very nature, therefore, marriage exists for the mutual love and support of the spouses and for the procreation and education of children.”
The statement calls for Catholics to preserve, protect and promote the institution of marriage in both private and public realms, “At a time when family life is under significant stress, the principled defense of marriage is an urgent necessity for the wellbeing of children and families, and for the common good of society.”
The Massachusetts State House is a good place to carry this out.
Kathryn Dillon works in the Clinical and Trial Advocacy Programs at Boston University School of Law.